New York native embraces hands-on learning

Published 9:00 am Monday, March 9, 2015

HANDS-ON: Redwood Elementary School fifth grade teacher Shane Silpe reads “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan to his class while wearing a toga and head wreath.

HANDS-ON: Redwood Elementary School fifth grade teacher Shane Silpe reads “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan to his class while wearing a toga and head wreath.

Fifth-grade students at Redwood Elementary sat still and silent, listening intently as their toga-clad teacher vividly orated the tantalizing tales of Greek mythology from the pages of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan.

The teacher, Shane Silpe, said he loves the Greek mythology because the kids get so invested.

“We did a play and the remainder of that day they all wanted to be called the names of whatever they were in that play,” he said. “They’ve really taken it on.”

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Silbe said the students had ambrosia, the food of the Greek gods; played Capture the Flag, channeling the Greek goddess Athena; and made and learned about laurels.

“We try to learn about culture at the same time as we’re reading the story,” he said.

When Silpe asked his students how his teaching style differed from others, the students had plenty to say.

“When you’re teaching you make us laugh,” Kaitlyn Blood said. Another student, Karl Merritt, said “You don’t act like a regular teacher. You make stuff fun.”

Silpe said he focuses on making the classroom fun and relevant for his students.

“I told them on the first day — a teacher told me this, and I really respected it — I’ll never teach them something they can’t use in their own lives,” he said. “If they think I’m teaching them something that’s a waste of time, and they’re right, I’ll just stop wherever I am because I think what we’re teaching them is supposed to prepare them for real life situations.”

Silpe, went to the College of Charleston where he majored in Elementary Education before joining Teach for America, a nonprofit focused on eliminating educational inequality by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach in low-income communities.

For Silpe’s TFA service he taught at Tallulah Elementary School for one year, but he said he enjoyed the area, which led to him taking his current position at Redwood this year.

“I wanted to have as many experiences as possible to be able to handle any kid that walked through my door,” he said of his TFA experience. “I want the experience of working with kids from as many backgrounds as possible.”

Silpe said when he learned Redwood was a Leader in Me school he was pleasantly surprised because he was already reading Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

“It completely aligns with my philosophy,” he said. “Especially coming from Tallulah, my whole thing is about making kids identify flaws around them and do something about it. In terms of what I want out of my kids is for them to be the leaders who affect change around them.”

New York native Silpe said he’s found a deep, unexpected appreciation for the South.

“I truly love the South,” he said. “Southern hospitality is real and true, and I love every part of it.”

Silpe said he doesn’t see himself going back to New York soon and he loves the little things about the South like slowing down and connecting to people.

“There’s just so many aspects of culture I just never got to experience before,” he said. “I remember it was my first week and I hadn’t even met the fifth grade teacher yet, and she came over and asked me if I was going home for Thanksgiving. She said ‘I would have invited you over if you weren’t.’ Things like that don’t happen in New York.”

When Silbe isn’t dressing up like and ancient Grecian teaching fifth graders, he enjoys spending time outdoors.

“I grew up on a beach,” he said. “Not that I can do it here, but I like to sail and surf.”

Silbe is able to hike in the area, and he said he enjoys going out to Tensas Wildlife Refuge to explore new areas.

“I’m also a runner,” he said. “I often try to learn about a place by running, so I’ve been running around Redwood a lot, which is different. There’s a lot of trucks and a lot of dogs chasing you.”